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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

Carter, Sekandar, Genji: variations on a cosmicist theme

Cosmicism is the philosophy associated most strongly with H.P. Lovecraft’s school of cosmic horror. The idea that the universe means nothing, human life is meaningless, and ultimately this reality shall drive a mind insane.

It is a somewhat bleak view of humanity. It is usually analysed in the context of western literature and philosophical thought. Comparisons can be drawn, for example, with the work of Nietzsche and the existentialists, trying to find some sense of meaning for life outside religion and convention.

Thus we find ideas like overcoming the cosmic horror through an embrace of the absurdity, or an assertion of authenticity, or the effort to become a superior sort of person (Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche… ish).

However, not entirely divorced from a modern context of reinterpreting Lovecraft and the xenophobia and bigotry bound into much of his work, a few other comparisons that might deserve fleshing out by others or myself.

In particular, he is far from the only author to grapple with the sense that the universe might not care about human life, and it is a pointless passing theme (of which more anon).

This is a major theme in The Tale of Genji, for example, in which an acceptance of this reality is considered a vital part of a sophisticated person’s cultivation. While not asserting the universe as antithetical to human life, it certainly understands that the universe might be ambivalent to it.

In the time we have, we must strive to be refined, live well with others, and understand that each stage of life will pass.

Similarly, the Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings) continually emphasises that no matter how great the king, he will die, his territories will be yielded to his enemies, and he will be forgotten.

Here, there is no reincarnation offered as some comfort or hope. Sekandar, a semi-mythologised Persian form of Alexander the Great if my understanding is correct, finds this particularly upsetting, weeping as he encounters numerous reminders that his time will be brief, and his end pointless.

The universe is more hostile here. The desert can be hot, disease can strike. Monsters lurk, especially for the older kings.

But there is not madness, merely grief. That life has no intrinsic importance is merely the nature of the world.

Thus we weep.



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